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By Christopher Garlington
Since we live in Chicago near a golf course and a forest preserve, we often see rabbits, chipmunks—even deer—grazing in the yard. We always see squirrels. Squirrels rule the street. They’re so tame they don’t even scatter when we race down the sidewalk to the car, they just sit there on their fat little haunches gnawing acorns or pine cones or crabapples and give us the hairy eyeball, as if every single squirrel immigrated from the Bronx.
Until the other day, when a squirrel and I bonded.
I always assume the squirrels don’t pay much attention to us enormous. explosive bipeds. I figure they figure us for ‘big crazy squirrels’ and ignore the screaming, the papers flying everywhere, the hip-check duels for determining who gets shotgun. But the other day, I threw the door open, raced down the steps, and skidded to a stop: One of them was staring at me.
I don’t mean staring the way a rabbit will glance at you to see if it should run, I mean a big fat tawny squirrel with an acorn in it’s grip was giving me the hairy eyeball. Like he recognized me.
I sensed a weird resonance with this tiny mammal: we were roughly the same shape, we both had a sardonic glare plastered on our mugs, we were both exquisitely browed. I was carrying a stack of books in my hands, close to my chest, worried they’d slip, just like he was carrying a giant acorn in his little fingers. I don’t know why I did this but I hunched down, like I was ducking—and the squirrel did the same thing. My son said the most remarkable, eloquent thing, practically an oration, he said “Dude.” I was inspired.
I double hunched and the squirrel double hunched. I turned my head to the right and the squirrel turned his. I ducked my head. He ducked his head. It was an interspecies tango. I said “Oh my God, my new Indian name is ‘dancing with squirrels’. My kids cracked up. My dance partner ran away.
The next day we hit the steps and pulled up short. There he was, same time, same place. My daughter immediately started in with a ‘bown-chicka-wow-wow’ and me and the squirrel ducked and bobbed until my son, though deeply impressed with the cross genus gyrations,
informed us we were already late for the first bell by groaning, “Dude?” and we pulled into the car. As I checked the rearview to
pull out, I saw my squirrel still staring at us, like the song was still playing but we’d jilted him and went to the bar for a drink.
He looked surprised.
The next day he didn’t show. Instead of blowing the door open, we eased out onto the steps– but no squirrel. I tried to get a rabbit to bump and grind but he just wiggled his nose, kind of a ‘you got to be kidding me,’ wiggle. The other squirrels just raced around the tree trunk and ignored me. I mean they completely ignored me, like they were saying ‘that bastard just left Franky standing there.’
As we sped through the neighborhood, suicide squirrels darted into the road, dodging my tires and leaping out of the way with hair trigger timing and steely bravado. I usually ignore this but after dancing with a squirrel for two days in a row, I had a new view. These were not simply confused rodents. They were warriors. They were testing their mettle by arcing across the path of oncoming hummers and hybrids. I imagined bristly squirrel girls hidden in the boxwoods and peonies switching their carefully groomed tails and saying ‘OMG, did you see that?!’ while their boy squirrels strut back to them across the grass having risked everything to give the tiny finger to chrome plated roaring death by squishilation.
This fantasy spun completely out of control so that every wild animal I saw seemed to have cartoon talk bubbles suspended in mid-air over their heads, filled with snappy dialogue and withering quips. The deer all talked like Frasier, rabbits were all frat boys’ the squirrels all talked like DeNiro in taxi, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and asking me ‘what, you gotta problem?’